At present there are no clinical therapies that can repair traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or degenerative brain disease. While redundancy and rewiring of surviving circuits can recover some lost function, the brain and spinal column lack sufficient endogenous stem cells to replace lost neurons or their supporting glia. In contrast, pre-clinical studies have demonstrated that exogenous transplants can have remarkable efficacy for brain repair in animal models. Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) can provide paracrine factors that repair damage caused by ischemic injury, and oligodendrocyte progenitor cell (OPC) grafts give dramatic functional recovery from spinal cord injury. These studies have progressed to clinical trials, including human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived OPCs for spinal cord repair. However, ESC-derived allografts are less than optimal, and we need to identify a more appropriate donor graft population. The cell reprogramming field has developed the ability to trans-differentiate somatic cells into distinct cell types, a technology that has the potential to generate autologous neurons and glia which address the histocompatibility concerns of allografts and the tumorigenicity concerns of ESC-derived grafts. Further clarifying how cell reprogramming works may lead to more efficient direct reprogram approaches, and possibly in vivo
reprogramming, in order to promote brain and spinal cord repair.